Since the last time the iPad versus MacBook Air 11” comparison was brought up, both products have improved and evolved tremendously, the iPad more so than the Air. It’s easy to dismiss even making the connection (because who here actually cross-shops a high-end ARM tablet with a mid-range ultraportable, raise of hands please) but I think there are enough shared attributes to make a discussion worthwhile, especially considering the similarity in terms of form factor and now battery life. If I was looking for an extremely compact, thin, light, and long-lasting companion device to bring on a trip, they’re both completely valid answers. But which would I actually take?

The short answer would almost always be the Air, for a variety of reasons, but I’ll get there. This basically goes back to the tablet versus notebook conversation for various usecases. The iPad is awesome as a travel device, as are most tablets in general, and you can see evidence of this in any airport terminal. Especially after the screen upgrade last year, the iPad is hands down one of the best content consumption devices on the market. It’s also my absolute favorite digital platform for reading. I’ll actually save lengthy articles, like some AnandTech reviews and other long-form content from other websites I enjoy, to read on my iPad. Between the sharpness of text on the Retina display and the physical closeness you have with the words, it’s about the closest you can get to a paper reading experience on an LCD. (This also holds true for any high-DPI tablet, including the Nexus 7.2, Nexus 10, Surface Pro, and others). Also, the ability to use a tablet with only one hand, not needing a platform of some kind, and general versatility of physical handling adds a convenience factor that’s hard to get from a notebook.

But when the tablet doesn’t have an inherent advantage in terms of size or battery life, it’s a lot harder to justify skipping the sheer versatility and power you get out of a real notebook computer, even a small one, for reasons that amount to the tablet being easier to use while standing up. The notebook is basically better at everything other than reading, and there’s far more computing horsepower at your disposal. You have far more control over everything that happens—media, browsing, documents, you name it. And there’s a real, physical keyboard, so in terms of productivity, there’s just not a conversation. To some degree, that’s always been something that held tablets back for me and I suspect the other editors on staff. Admittedly, our usecases typically involve a lot of writing and email, neither of which is easy at all without a hardware keyboard, so we’re probably not the right target demographic to judge tablets by.

The capabilities of a Core i5-based ultraportable are so far beyond that of an iPad or Nexus 10 though, which is part of what makes this on the surface a somewhat odd comparison to be making. Obviously the tablets are cheaper, though it’s worth pointing out that a 128GB iPad (WiFi) is only $200 less than a 128GB Air 11”, and as noted earlier the iPad keyboards typically run $100. I don’t know why anyone would need that much storage on an iPad, maybe if you had a ton of 1080p video content that you really needed to carry with you everywhere. The 16 and 32GB iPads, at $499 and 599, are obviously far more accessible and probably more sensible investments.

I’m not trying to recommend that people buy the Air over the iPad, just that it’s possible to do so with very little compromise. It wasn’t really something you could do until now simply because of battery life, but with Haswell ULT boasting similar or better power efficiency than high-end ARM SoCs in light everyday CPU-driven workloads, it’s certainly something to think about. I think the best of both worlds situation is yet to come, possibly with something that looks like a thinner, Haswell-based Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 and significantly better battery life than we’ve seen out of Ivy Bridge tablets in the last year.

 
Display Quality Final Thoughts and Discussion
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  • chrnochime - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    Bezel size the same as the Vaio Pro. Sticking point is TN panel.1195-1050=145. 145/1195= 0.1213, or 12.13%, NOT 25%. Nice math genius. Reply
  • chrnochime - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    And you're comparing a FP body with a CF body. Amazing. Reply
  • name99 - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    The bezel will go, and the screen size MAY increase to use up the extra space, when the retina displays are ready. Until that point, it makes no sense to make the change.

    This is one of (of course far from the only) the reasons Apple makes a profit --- they don't screw around with pointless modifications to something that works. You see a similar pattern in the way they have reused and repurposed the A5 CPU across their iOS line.

    Compare with the Asian companies, which change chassis and internal components every three months. They never get a chance to perfect anything, they're wasting money on constant retooling and driver writing, and if you get a buggy device, it's kindof random whether the bug will ever be fixed or not.
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    1.3 GHz DC 256GB 13" MBA is £1139. Vaio Pro 13 with battery slice, 1.8 GHz, 256GB, 1080p, 8gb RAM, £1130, and if I go into a shop, 3% discount. That's the challenge. Reply
  • abazigal - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    MBA comes with OSX and access to the apple ecosystem, plus iLife suite and a host of other useful software features. Apple also tends to have better after-sales service.

    For me, I have learnt that specs alone don't always paint the full, complete picture.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    You can add the downside to that as well. It doesn't come with W8 and last time I checked, a win license is not cheap. That and the relatively poor bootcamp performance(half the battery). Reply
  • ESC2000 - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Um for a lot of people the fact that it comes with OSX is a downside. I've been considering a Mac but I'd have to bootcamp Windows because my firm requires Windows, like pretty much every large company/firm, and I dislike OSX regardless of my job's requirements. That means i'd have to pay extra for a windows license.

    It is true that similarly-specced Windows machines cost about the same (although I doubt we would see such a crappy screen being passed off as premium) but those OEMs are also paying for the windows license. The bottom line is Macs are overpriced. There is a reason they have $150 billion in the bank.

    Every time I start thinking about buying an apple product and I look into what they offer, I always come away feeling like I would be ripped off if I bought it: either it is overpriced or some corner was cut, like the terrible air screen this year, or it lacks some software feature (in the case of the ios).

    I have no idea what iLife is but I hope it is worth all that extra money.
    Reply
  • andykins - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Argument about cost of Windows is moot. Developing your own OS is neither cheap nor easy. Reply
  • teiglin - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    That 1130 is with VAT? I guess UK is getting even better sales than here--that config currently runs $1680 less $100 rebate, before sales tax. So for me, that'd be a little over $1700 after cashing the rebate.

    Anyway, definitely the vaio, or wait for rMBP. 1440x900 may not be as awful as 1366x768 but why in god's name would you be willing to suffer a TN panel in 2013? And the vaio is freakishly light; that extra .6lbs is really easy to feel when you're holding the thing.
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    I'm a MBA 13 has well owner who has been disappointed with the 11 for years now... 16:9 is a terrible aspect ratio for this kind of system, also this system has a huge bezel relative to its size, I'd love the mba11 formfactor with a 12.5 16:10 screen with a tiny bezel. Reply

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